By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express
A changing climate and a growing city signal a new age for Durham watersheds.
In order to ensure these sensitive ecosystems are protected in the years to come, the Central Lake Ontario Conservation Authority is undertaking a review of its watershed plans to ensure they are able to withstand any future threats.
The review, launched earlier this summer, will include a deep dive into four of CLOCA’s planning documents that guide decision making around particular watersheds under its authority. These reviews include the Lynde Creek, Oshawa Creek, the Black/Harmony/Farewell Creek and the Bowmanville/Soper Creek watershed plans.
While the work is being labelled as a “refresh” of the current documents, staff will be looking to find answers to serious questions about the future of the area watersheds with a particular focus on how these areas will change in the years ahead, how CLOCA can respond to pressures, and whether there is anything CLOCA can do to lessen the blow from emerging threats, which can impact these natural areas in various ways.
“The pressures facing CLOCA watersheds include maintaining sustainable natural heritage resources such as water, plant communities, wildlife and wetland complexes, as well as balancing growth and climate change risks/hazards,” says Angela Porteous, a watershed planning coordinator with CLOCA. “There are many opportunities that can be considered to manage these watershed pressures that will be incorporated into updated watershed plans.”
Updates will also be made to recommendations on how to best manage the watersheds moving forward, which could lead to practical changes inside the ecosystems.
“There are many opportunities that can be considered to manage these watershed pressures that will be incorporated into updated watershed plans,” Porteous says. “Some of the outcomes could include the removal of in-stream fish barriers to allow fish migration, the implementation of restoration activities such as tree planting programs to improve natural spaces, or perhaps the inclusion of low-impact development technologies in urban design standards.”
Much like their predecessors, these documents will also swim upstream to the local municipalities and the Region of Durham (who is also helping fund the review), so recommendations can be considered in official planning documents and development decisions.
The review comes amidst a recent realization that CLOCA’s watersheds may be suffering in particular areas. Information from Conservation Ontario in the recently released Watershed Report Card for CLOCA gave the authority’s surface water and forest quality grades ranging from C to F.
The report noted that while surface water quality in Bowmanville had improved, but saw declines in Lynde, Oshawa and Farewell Creek watersheds.
“More efforts are needed to reduce bacterial and nutrient inputs through improvements to land management practices. This will improve water quality and support healthy aquatic ecosystems,” the report reads.
In terms of CLOCA forest conditions, again, the report noted several declines from the previous report card completed in 2013. The report notes that due to the scarcity of forest land in CLOCA’s southern watersheds due to urban and agricultural land use, they typically receive F grades in that area. Pressures from invasive species, highway construction, and ongoing urbanization continue to impact CLOCA forest conditions.
Porteous says they want to improve on these conditions, but the impacts of any potential changes may not be felt for some time.
“The results of restoration activities are generally not immediate and take time for the positive impacts on the natural environment to be realized,” she says. “If the watershed grades were updated on a frequent basis, the scoring would likely show this gradual change with improved grades resulting in the longer term.”
It is anticipated that the process to complete the updated documents will take two years. Throughout the remainder of 2018, CLOCA will be using information and data gathered from the authority’s watershed monitoring program to renew the maps and models associated with the plans. Throughout 2019, the data and information will be analyzed along with the potential impacts of climate change.
“There is a lot of hard work and consultation with many stakeholders to make sure that these watershed plans provide a meaningful and tangible framework that can be implemented and supported,” Porteous says. “The updated plans, scheduled to be released in 2020, will provide a framework that will provide direction for the next five years to protect the local natural heritage system and balance human influences. Continued periodic review of the watershed plans will always be required as these are living documents that need to be refreshed from time to time to ensure we are balancing human activities and ensuring watershed health for today and tomorrow.”
CLOCA will also be looking for the public’s opinion on the future of the area’s watersheds and will be hosting a number of information sessions.
On Oct. 25 from 6:30 to 8 p.m. and Oct. 27 from 9:30 to 11 a.m., CLOCA will be hosting public information centres in Whitney Hall at the Iroquois Park Sports Centre to discuss the Lynde and Oshawa Creek watershed plans.
On Nov. 8 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. and Nov. 10 from 1 to 2:30 p.m., further information centres will be held in the Great Room at the Courtice branch of the Clarington Public Libary to discuss the Bowmanville/Soper and Black/Farewell/Harmony Creek watershed plans.
This news may sound familiar to some as the conservation authority is also undertaking a similar process with other areas of the organization. Earlier this year The Oshawa Express reported on the ongoing work to update CLOCA’s Conservation Areas Master Plan, a process that hasn’t been undertaken in over 20 years. CLOCA manages 16 different conservation area complexes. Of those, eight are popular Durham attractions, including Purple Woods in Oshawa, Lynde Shores and Heber Down in Whitby, the Bowmanville/Westside Marshes, Long Sault in Bowmanville, and Enniskillen Conservation Area in Clarington.